One year ago Fikile Ntshangase, an environmental activist from South Africa, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made.
Today, members of her community and of local environmental justice organizations took to the streets and sent a letter to South Africa’s government, calling for justice.
They have strong support. In July 2021, the UN human rights expert on freedom of assembly and association highlighted the killing of Ntshangase in his report as an example of the dangers women environmental human rights defenders are facing. In March, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Ntshangase’s story to open a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting the risks for environmental defenders worldwide.
Environmental defenders such as Ntshangase have long faced threats for voicing their concerns about the extraction of coal and other climate-harming activities in South Africa. Human Rights Watch, in a 2019 report published jointly with groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Earthjustice, documented how activists in mining-affected communities across the country have experienced threats, physical attacks, or property damage that they believe is retaliation for their activism.
The South African government should take steps to better protect environmental defenders, beginning by ensuring the police conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into the killing of Ntshangase and ‘Bazooka’ Radebe, an environmental activist murdered in March 2016. Unless those responsible are brought to justice, environmental defenders in South Africa and abroad will continue to live in a climate of fear.